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How New Zealand could bring down the Australian government

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A strange political scandal in Australia turned serious on August 14th when the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, discovered—much to his surprise—that he was also a citizen of New Zealand, reported Cetus News.

Section 44 of Australia’s constitution prevents anyone with dual citizenship from sitting in Parliament. So far such discoveries have led two Australian Greens to resign from the Senate and an MP of the Liberal Party to step down from his cabinet role as industry minister. But the discovery of Mr Joyce’s apparent ineligibility has given the matter greater urgency—the loss of a single seat would cause the coalition government of the Liberal and National parties to lose its majority. Events have escalated quickly, with one Australian minister accusing New Zealand of meddling in its politics.

Mr Joyce is one of Australia’s most high-profile and experienced politicians. The leader of the right-wing National Party, he spent eight years in the Senate and has sat in the House of Representatives since his party returned to power in 2013. He is also minister for agriculture.
But Mr Joyce’s father was born in New Zealand. The child of a citizen of New Zealand automatically becomes one by descent. In parliament, Mr Joyce emphasised his maternal Australian roots and the fact that he had never sought foreign citizenship. But he could do little other than to refer the matter to the High Court, which will hear the case on August 24th. Unlike the Green senators, he has refused to resign. That the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, asked Mr Joyce to continue in his duties is directly related to the government’s fragile grip on power. If Mr Joyce were to be found ineligible to sit, a by-election would be arranged for his rural seat of New England, north of Sydney.
Until then, the government would have to seek support from opposition parties and independents to approve legislation. Worse still, the by-election could turn into a de facto referendum on the government’s performance. This poses risks for an administration that has consistently trailed behind the opposition Labor Party in opinion polls.

The Australian government is also unhappy about the manner in which Mr Joyce's roots were disclosed. The chief-of-staff of an Labor senator spoke to an MP in the New Zealand Labour Party, Chris Hipkins, about Australian legislators who may be New Zealand citizens. Mr Hipkins raised the issue in his country’s Parliament. Questions from journalists then resulted in the Kiwi interior minister explaining Mr Joyce’s new-found status. Smelling a conspiracy, the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said that she would find it “very difficult” to work with a party that sought to “undermine the Australian government”. In addition to the strength of Ms Bishop’s language, the fact that she made such a statement during an election campaign in New Zealand has heightened sensitivities further. The leader of New Zealand Labour, Jacinda Ardern, described Ms Bishop’s comments as “highly regrettable”.

It is clear the debate still has some distance to run. The Australian government has called into question the citizenship of seven Labor MPs. (Indeed, a constitutional law expert interviewed on Australia’s national broadcaster this week said she had discovered while researching that subject that she too was a Kiwi. This does not disqualify her from her position at Sydney Law School.) One solution to the political drama might be an amendment to the constitution itself. When Section 44 was written, in 1891, New Zealand was not considered a foreign power, as both Australia and New Zealand came under the dominion of the British monarch.

Read more at cetusnews.com

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